Road through Arrowtown by Evelyn Page


This article first appeared as 'The joy of rediscovery' in The Press on 18 July 2014.

Historic paintings from Christchurch Art Gallery's permanent collection have made their way back from post quake emergency storage to the racks in the historic paintings store over the past few weeks. Historic paintings have been all but unavailable for public viewing in Christchurch since the quakes and it was an absolute buzz to see some of the gallery's best known works again after their 3 ½ year exile. Suddenly I was face to face with some of our most loved paintings: John Gibb's Lyttelton Harbour, Petrus van der Velden's Mountain Stream, Otira Gorge, Rita Angus' Cass, Bill Sutton's Dry September, Francis Hodgkins' Zipp and Colin McCahon's Tomorrow will be the same, the list could go on. Seeing them in person again after all these years was a delight and made acutely aware of just how much the Christchurch public must be missing them also.

As a curator you pride yourself on getting to know a collection intimately over the years, but one work took me by surprise as it was placed back on the racks; it was a painting I was only peripherally aware of, a work which had slipped under my radar. But as I took a closer look, it had the unmistakable attributes of Evelyn Page; a highly gifted and respected painter. The scene was instantly recognisable as Arrowtown and I felt drawn to discover more about the painting.

The Page family made regular holidays to central Otago staying at Queenstown and exploring the surrounding region. Road Through Arrowtown was painted directly outdoors during one such holiday between December 1941 and January 1942. By the 1940s Page had emerged as a major painter in New Zealand and as Neil Roberts has noted, she had fully developed a unity of brushstrokes and play of colour to find her direction. There is a confidence in her use of oil paint. It's not quite spontaneous, but there is little hesitation as she applies paint directly to the canvas. There is an astute assuredness in her technique. The tree lined streets of Arrowtown are one of the most photographed images of Central Otago. Little has changed since Page painted this streetscape, apart perhaps from the increased number of tourists making their way to the town. The slow paced horse and cart in Page's painting is likely to have been replaced by large tourist coaches today. Still, there is no denying the fact that Arrowtown is a beautiful town set in a stunning location.

Road Through Arrowtown was first exhibited at the Canterbury Society of Arts in 1941 when it was acquired by the Society for their collection and in 1996 the Christchurch Art Gallery was able to purchase it for the permanent collection.